THE SACRED PLOWING FESTIVALS
HIERES AROTOI - IÆRǼS ÁROTI - ΙΕΡΕΣ ΑΡΟΤΟΙ 

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GENERALITIES

In this essay, we are going to discuss the Iærós Árotos (Hieros Arotus, Ἱερὸς Ἄροτος, singular), the Sacred Plowing Festival. Actually there are three, so we can speak of the Iærǽs Ároti (Hieres Arotoi, Ἱερὲς Ἄροτοι, plural), Sacred Plowings. These were three festivals practiced by the ancient Athenians, this according to Ἠθικὰ Πλουτάρχου· Γαμικὰ παραγγέλματα Chapter 42.

1. The first plowing was at Skíron (Scirum, Σκίρον), the place named after Skírôn (Sciron, Σκίρων) the robber who was destroyed by Thiséfs (Theseus, Θησεύς) as one of his labors. Ploutarkhos says this was the most ancient of the plowings.

2. The second plowing was at the field of Rárion (Raria, Ράριον), a place sacred to Dîmítîr (Demeter, Δημήτηρ) in Ælefsís (Eleusis, Ἐλευσίς) where agriculture was first practiced.

3. The third was the Vouzýyios (Buzygios, Βουζύγιος), the ritual plowing, near the base of the Akrópolis (Acropolis, Ἁκρόπολις).

Ploutarkhos does not actually discuss the festivals, he just mentions them in passing. In his essay, he is using the idea of plowing as a metaphor for the act of procreation in marriage. These festivals, on the other hand, have deep mystical significance.

 

Historical Background

At Ælefsís, one of the hereditary priestly families was the Vouzýyai (Bouzygae, Βουζύγαι), founded by the hero Vouzýyîs (Bouzygês, Βουζύγης) who was the first to yoke oxen. The etymology of his name is βοῦς “ox” + ζυγόν “to yoke.” The plow which Vouzýyis uses is given to him by Goddess Athîná (Athêna, Ἀθηνᾶ). Before the time of Thiséfs, Athens was not on good terms with Ælefsís. Goddess Athîná assumed a mystical role for the Athenians, acting in the same agricultural role as Dîmítîr and Kórî (Corê, Κόρη). Later, there was a war between the two cities in which Athens won. Since that battle, Athens was politically and religiously bonded to Ælefsís, but the mystical role of Goddess Athîná was retained as regards to the three Sacred Plowings.

There was a separate Sacred Plowing also held at Ælefsís. Priests of the Vouzýyai were chosen to do this ploughing after which they sowed some seeds of wheat in the resulting trench. What are these priests doing?…symbolically, they are cultivating the soul.

 

THE SYMBOLISM OF THE SACRED PLOWING FESTIVAL

 

The Plow and the Oxen

The ancient plow consisted of two oxen yoked to a plowshare. It has several symbolisms.

1. The soul. One of the oxen symbolizes the yolk of the egg-soul, the will, ruled by Ploutôn (Plutô, Πλούτων). The second ox stands for the shell of the egg-soul, the mind, ruled by Zefs (Ζεύς). The ploughshare represents the white of the egg-soul, the aithír (aethêr, αἰθήρ), supplying energy for Progress, the domain of Poseidóhn (Poseidôn, Ποσειδῶν). These three taken together symbolize the human soul.

2. The second symbolism of the oxen and the plowshare is the soul of a God. It is Ærmís (Hermês, Ἑρμῆς). Athîná prepares the ground and Ærmís acts. Typically in the mythology, the male Divine Consort is hidden. The role of the Goddess is apparent, evident, while the role of the male deity is concealed. Ærmís here symbolizes the male Olympian deities, who unite with souls, to free and deify them.

3. The third symbolism is the union of the previous two, the soul of the God and the soul of a human, by means of the ploughshare. The plow (the God) enters the earth (the human soul) and unites the two souls, that of the God with that of the human.

Who begins this process? We are talking about the Mysteries of Ælefsís so the suspicion must lie on Dîmítîr, but this is not correct. It is Athîná. She is the one who taught Vouzýyis, for it is Wisdom which cultivates the soul.

 

Wheat

The next image to discuss is the seed sown in the ground; this is symbolized by wheat. Why wheat? There is more than one reason but here we discuss the length of its life-cycle, which is twelve months, which symbolizes the Sacred Way. The first three months the seed sprouts and gains energy. The next three months the new plant blossoms. These six steps represent initiation. In the next three months the wheat makes casings, like ovaries, for the ears; these are emblematic of the mystics, who become divine at the ninth step. The last three months are representative of the realm of the Olympian Gods; the wheat-ear is mature and is cut and now has more seeds for the future. At the last step, ruled by Dîmítîr, the deified soul becomes Kórî, the Golden Wheat-ear coming back to help all the creatures. This is why the wheat-ear is the symbol of the Ælefsínia Mystîria (Eleusinian Mysteries, Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια). Of course only those souls deified by Zefs himself return as Kórai (Corae, Κόραι, plural).

 

WHEN TO PRACTICE THE FESTIVALS

It is with the introduction of these three festivals that our community finally has holidays for both Athîná and Ærmís. It is my belief that Athîná is the protectress of our community and she is greatly beloved of several of the students. Therefore, this is a very great gift we have been given, to express our devotion to Athiná Sóhteira (Sôteira, Σώτειρα), our mighty saviouress, and to her clever consort Ærmís.

The three festivals are celebrated in autumn, spring, and summer:

1. Autumn: The first is celebrated in early October just after the Religious New Year Equinox, but if this is impossible, no later than October 21st, the change of the month, ideally on a full moon.

2. Spring: We do not know the original ancient date of the spring plowing festival but I propose the first full moon after the spring equinox of March 21.

3. Summer: We know the exact date of this festival because it is found in ancient writings; it is the 12th day of Skirophorióhn (Scirophoriôn, Σκιροφοριών) of the Athenian calendar. Thus, the festival is usually celebrated mid-June, but the precise day can be found on the Athenian calendar published by Hellenion (the Athenian calendar changes every year). The summer plowing festival was named the Skirophória (Scirophoria, Σκιροφόρια) and in reference to it, Athîná is known by the epithet Skirádos (Scirados, Σκιράδος). There is a nice article about this festival on the Greek Wikipedia, and for those inclined, elements of the ancient practice may be added to our ritual.



The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.


The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The 
Pætilía (Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς). 



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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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